Top 10 best sets of the summer festival season

With the summer winding down and as we start to look at the Fall season and the scene entering back indoors at the clubs, I think it's a good time to reflect on what an amazing summer festival Canada had. Canadians no longer need to travel long distances to find the best DJs and producers playing at the biggest shows, we have it all right here in Canada.

This summer Canada hosted almost every big DJ on the planet, and that's something that fans and promoter can be proud about. I have been fortunate in being able to attend a lot of festivals and below you'll find the 10 best sets that I found to have had the most impact this summer festival season. 

1. RICHIE HAWTIN (ESCAPADE, OTTAWA)

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From the moment Richie Hawtin took over the decks from Maya Jane Coles, he wasted no time to set the mood to a darker tone. Originally set to play an hour earlier, the weather issues that plagued Day 2 of Escapade had pushed his set to 9 pm. Hawtin wore his classic minimalist black attire, but instead of looser fitting sleeveless shirt he wore at a Montreal show 5 years ago, this time it looked like a custom fit. 

The whole set was dark and moody as Richie Hawtin made frequent adjustments to the beat, bringing up the tempo and lowering it, adding a loop, a vocal clip, and whatever other sounds contained within the Canadian artists large arsenal. It seemed like there were no tracks played in a traditional sense as his show felt like one stream of consciousness as Richie Hawtin consistently analyzed the crowd and made adjustments based on how he wanted the crowd to react. At one point a fan from the front row caught his eye who was egging him on, in reaction he went to his mixer and within a few seconds the tempo was turned up. He then looked back at the fan and both nodded in approval. 

With no graphics on the video screen and only minimal lighting, he let his music create the mood, and he did it to a powerful effect. Richie Hawtin wanted to be in Canada to help celebrate its 150th birthday, and he gave the country a special gift at Escapade.

2. JUSTICE (WAYHOME, TORONTO)

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Justice possibly played the best individual set at WayHome this year. Seeing this French duo live with their full stage setup takes their music and overall atmosphere to a whole new level. The stage lightning would morph multiple times throughout the performance to suit the mood, and even though the lights were awe-inspiring, Justice's famous minimalism came through as the colour schemes did not surpass 1 colour at a time out of 5-6 total. While Gaspard was mostly busy at the controls, rarely looking down at he crowd, it was Xavier that took the time to interact and get the crowd even further into their performance. Both of them have such good chemistry that it was a treat to watch them riff off another during the set. 

3. PORTER ROBINSON (WAYHOME, TORONTO)

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The last EDM act of WayHome came from none other than Porter Robinson, who recently graced the mainstage of Coachella with Madeon. His atmospheric tracks from his now classic album Worlds filled the WayHome stage which was accompanied with vivid anime graphics and abstract computer generated art. Porter's set up is elaborate for a single artist as he had a mic for singing, 2 keyboards, a mixer, and a drum pad. At times he would be busy manipulating two stations at the same time, which was captured on the big screen in all of its glory. The simplicity of his set was magical. Listening to his big tracks like Shelter and Sad Machine was an emotional experience for everyone there, as the crowd did not hesitate to show their appreciation every chance they got. This was an intense Porter performance, and the best set I've personally seen him play out of the 4-5 times prior. His set at WayHome will not be soon forgotten. 

4. MAT ZO (ESCAPADE, OTTAWA)

Mat Zo brought a big time set to #escapademf #anjunabeats #ottawa

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The MVP of the Anjunabeats Escapade experience goes to Mat Zo, who spun an Anjunabeats classic set that left the smaller yet enthusiastic crowd in awe. While Above & Beyond was on the mainstage, Mat Zo went 30 minutes over his planned set schedule to give us "Rebound", his track with Arty that was arguably one of their biggest singles back in the day. He then took the crowd on a true time warp as he brought out the Kyau & Albert remix of "6am" by Cressida (2008), the Wippenberg remix of "Needs To Feel" by Super8 & Tab (2007), and many more. Mat Zo looked happy behind the decks and was clearly feeling the set. It was a special moment to witness. 

5. FLUME (BLUESFEST, OTTAWA)

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In terms of electronic dance music, Flume was the biggest name to be booked by Bluesfest this year as he finished off the night to headline the mainstage on Thursday night. The stage was simple but carried a big punch as the graphics were crisp, coinciding with the style of his smooth, driving, and emotional tracks. The Australian artist had a setup that allowed to manipulate his tracks on the fly including a drum machine, that he used with frequency. The whole set was a celebration of Flume's impressive discography as he showed it off with pride and left the crowd with more than a few goose bump moments.  

6. ORJAN NILSEN (DREAMS, TORONTO)

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The trance tent was buzzing all day and especially during Orjan Nilsen's massive afternoon set. He didn't hesitate to unleash his biggest tracks at 5:20 pm and the crowd loved him for it. Orjan was highly animated behind the decks as his gestures could be a compared to a hybrid mix of Dash Berlin and Armin's emotion filled arm raising during euphoric moments. Without a doubt, Orjan's own productions were biggest crowd favourites including "The Late Anthem", "Los Capos"(With KhoMha), "Iconic", "Fair Game" (With Cosmic Gate), and one of his last tracks of the set, "Kilowatts". 

7. RL GRIME (BLUESFEST, OTTAWA)

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Following REZZ was RL Grime, who is no stranger to Bluesfest, and showed it by giving one of the best sets of 2017. By the time the L.A. artist took the stage the crowd was massive and went nuts every chance they've gotten. RL Grime has stepped up his game this year by playing mashups and edits galore, like mashing well known tracks like Galantis' "Runaway (U&I)" and Coolio's "Gangter's Paradise" with his own tracks. His set was fresh and clearly better than any other time I've seen him in the past. I was captivated with every track, every moment. Everything done during that set had purpose, like pieces of a puzzle when formed into a piece of art. The last track was his new single "Stay For It", a fitting end to one of the best moments of the year. 

8. WHAT SO NOT (DREAMS, TORONTO)

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The Australian artist Emoh Instead (Chris Emerson) of What So Not got his set to a quick start with an ID that led into a remix of the intro of "Stranger Things" from the hit Netlix show. The early time slot was ideal as he got to showcase his growing repertoire of chiller tracks, including many from his Divide & Conquer EP. When he wanted the crowd to move he dropped classic Baauer edit of "Tell Me" by RL Grime/What So Not or "Waiting", his collab with Skrillex and RL Grime to great effect. Since the end of the partnership with Flume, Emoh Instead has made What So Not into his own and has successfully given it a fresh direction.

9. REZZ (BLUESFEST, OTTAWA)

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The sound system at Bluesfest in Ottawa got tested to the max as REZZ took control of the decks on Tuesday night. She started off the proceedings with "Warrior" by EPROM and G Jones, a personal favourite, due to its uncompromising distorted bass drop. The vast majority of the tracks played were from REZZ's own discography and the crowd loved her for it in return. The bass from the sound system was crisp, which allowed her best tracks like "Edge" to be properly showcased. With her debut album "Mass Manipulation" ready to come out on August 4th, the Canadian artist gave the crowd a sneak peek by playing a few tracks. The new stuff sounds like a continuation of her style but with certain aspects exhibiting a chunkier bass. REZZ's sound is part bass with hints of techno and dark industrial, but remixed into her own style and makes it fully into her own musical style and aesthetic. Expect a strong album and even bigger things from this quickly up and coming artist in the future.  

10. BONDAX (DREAMS, TORONTO)

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Day 2 started and ended with perfect weather and hearing the smooth sounds of Bondax was the perfect way to begin Saturday's packed lineup. The British duo were bobbed their heads and grooved to their own beat which the crowd fed off on Echo Beach. Fans took advantage of the extra room available to dance and made their enthusiasm known whenever a track came on and made them happy. Notable tracks included Joe Goddard's remix of "Giving It All" by Bondax, and Mall Grab's "I Just Wanna".

16 questions for Blasterjaxx (Interview)

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Blasterjaxx is a Dutch duo that has been consistently delivering some of the hardest big room tunes for year. Instead of turning away from the genre that has gotten them to this point, both Thom and Idir have doubled down by releasing a consistent stream of tracks especially made for the festival circuit. With 6+ months worth of new music planned for the rest of the year and into 2018, this duo is just getting started. 

EDM Canada had a chance to talk to Thom from Blasterjaxx from their massive headlining performance at the Riverside Festival in Ottawa/Gatineau. We talked about their summer, sound, future, and more. Check it out: 

How was your summer festival season?

Great. The summer went by so fast.

Did you play a lot of festivals? If so, where did you play?

We were in Asia as it's a really up and coming market. There were a lot of festivals in Europe so we spent a lot of time there.

What separates blasterjaxx from other DJs in the scene today?

In terms of productions we have developed our own signature sound which has separated us a little bit from other acts. Right now there isn't a lot of big room left which is good for us because there's less people that sound like us.

When it comes to the shows, we love to do crazy bootlegs of things that you would never expect. We try to be different as a lot of producers want to remix the hottest track, we want to remix a lot of throwbacks. We do this so it won't clash with any other DJ that's coming out after us. We try to create our own sound.

Does it get annoying when people declare big room as dead when clearly it still has a massive following and is a perfect genre for the festival season? 

I thought for 10 years that trance was dead but it's still ridiculously big in some countries. That pretty much says it all.

Is “Temple” considered a different direction for Blasterjaxx, how did you get those vocal samples? The violin bits were also very cool.

That's funny because the track 'Temple” has been made even before Idir was involved with Blasterjaxx. So the melody was made 7-8 years ago.

Blasterjaxx at Riverside Festival in Ottawa/Gatineau

Blasterjaxx at Riverside Festival in Ottawa/Gatineau

So why did it take so long for it to be released?

It was a free giveaway song just for fun and back then we had a completely different sound. When we were on break from the tour we were looking for new drops and we came across that track, and since it was a Blasterjaxx track, why not?

How was it working Tom Swoon for your latest single “All I ever wanted”?

We picked up Tom Swoon's demo because I thought it would be something interesting to the label. His demo was 4 BPM slower than the version we have now. The drop was completely different, it was more housey style, but we liked the vocals. We thought about using the stems to make a remix out of it but it turned out to be so much work that it turned out to be a collaboration instead. We had struggles with this one.

How long did it take you to create it?

3 weeks while working on it everyday. We couldn't find the right direction to go with. But we finally got it together.

What do you think of the new Latino influences in EDM like the new Mi Gente remix? If so, do you have anything in the works?

If you look back with Blasterjaxx you'll see that we started with this sound, about 6-8 years ago. If you go back that far you'll see those tracks on Beatport. For us it feels like it's going back to our roots. It's still one of the things that we still want to make a lot, we love latin stuff and we feel like our tracks are very bouncy.

Is there anything in the works?

There are a few collaborations in the works with people we don't normally collaborate with but we are still not sure if that's going to work out yet.

Blasterjaxx has been known to keeping it 100 and focusing on making music for the festival scene. But with a lot of producer success on the top 40, are you tempted to give it a shot and making a name yourself on the pop charts?

We tried and what we found out is that it is really not our style. We tried many things in a commercial way and we have so much laying about in the studio that we didn't finish because it didn't feel right. I won't say we hate it, but we disagree with the whole future bass trend. Chainsmokers tracks are really cool but there are a 100,000 copies of that style. When we try to put together a radio show, 70% of the demos are future bass, which is at 110 bpm, what are we going to do with that?

How has Blasterjaxx been since you've been taken over the live duties and Idir is more in the studio? 

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Right now he's doing more studio work, and since he's stepped off the road, we've had to define tasks. For a long time I did the studio work, and I still go when I'm back from tour, but life goes on. We're all a little older and we're all a little more serious about our personal lives. I used to do 4 days a week of studio time, but now that's gone down to 1-2 days.

How's Idir doing?

He's doing well and he's better in this place right now.

What's next for blasterjaxx for the rest of 2017 and next year? Any new EPs and LPs on the way? 

Our release schedule is already so backed up already. We just created 2 dope new songs and unfortunately there's no room in the schedule to put in it.

So how many months is your release schedule fully booked?

It's fully booked until January. It's really great but at the same time very frustrating.

Have you considered putting some of these tracks together for an LP?

We considered an LP for the XX files but we are perfections and thought it wasn't good enough for an album. We'll consider an album for the future, and it has to be well thought out. It has to be carefully planned.

Can you tell us about your next release?

On October 6th we have a new track coming out called “Desire”. It's not a big room or a future bass sound, but it's more of a trappy track that has that Blasterjaxx style.